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Don't expect Rashtrapati Bhavan to host iftar for the next five years

Kumar Shakti Shekhar
Kumar Shakti ShekharJun 28, 2017 | 19:38

Don't expect Rashtrapati Bhavan to host iftar for the next five years

Those raising hue and cry over Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ministerial colleagues skipping the iftar reception thrown by President Pranab Mukherjee may be in for the rudest shock next year. NDA’s presidential candidate Ram Nath Kovind, if elected, is unlikely to continue the tradition followed by his predecessors.

Iftar is the only religion-based dinner which is hosted by the Rashtrapati Bhavan. The highest constitutional post primarily invites politicians besides some eminent people from other fields. Otherwise, the president organises the other religious festivals such as Diwali and Christmas for people from all walks of life. More significantly, no dinner or lunch is hosted by the president on these occasions.

Mukherjee had hosted the last iftar of his tenure as president on June 23. Vice president Hamid Ansari, opposition leaders such as Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad, former Rajya Sabha MP Mohsina Kidwai and CPI (M) leader Sitaram Yechury attended it.

PM Modi has skipped iftar fourth time in a row

Prime Minister Narendra Modi skipped the iftar reception for the fourth time in a row since 2014. Instead, he left for a three-nation tour the same morning. Last year (2016) and the year before that, he did not attend the annual event despite being in the national capital. He was being briefed by Home Minister Rajnath Singh on an important internal security matter last year. In 2015, he was attending a meeting of chief ministers from the northeastern states. In 2014, PM Modi was in Mumbai to attend a

In 2015, he was attending a meeting of chief ministers from the northeastern states. In 2014, PM Modi was in Mumbai to attend a programme.

In the last three years, one or the other Union minister had surely attended presidential iftar. However, it was the first time that it did not have any representation from the Centre. It was perhaps an indication of the things to be expected from next year.

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Why Ram Nath Kovind may follow APJ Abdul Kalam

In most likelihood, NDA’s presidential candidate Ram Nath Kovind, who stands a bright chance to get elected to the top constitutional post in the July 17 election, will stop this tradition of Rashtrapati Bhavan hosting a politico-religious event of iftar.

President Mukherjee hosted iftar on all five years. Every year, it was attended by Congress and Left leaders. On the last three occasions, he had at least some representation from BJP, such as Arun Jaitley, Rajnath Singh, and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi. But this year was unique. Neither any minister nor any BJP leader made it to the Rashtrapati Bhavan on the occasion.

But if Kovind decides to hold iftar, the very people who fielded him and on whose support he would win the presidential election would skip it. This would act as a dampener for him to organise the event. Moreover, Kovind would have another reason - and may be a more plausible one - to end this tradition. Former President APJ Abdul Kalam had discontinued the tradition when he assumed the post in 2002.

Kalam was against the Rashtrapati Bhavan organising a politico-religious programme with public funds. He stopped with and directed that the funds spent on the iftar be donated to orphanages. However, his successor Pratibha Patil revived iftar in 2007. Pranab Mukherjee too continued with it. But Kovind may follow the footsteps of Kalam. Rashtrapati Bhavan may not see iftar receptions for the next five years.

Origin and political significance of iftar at the Rashtrapati Bhavan

It was in 1973 that the then Uttar Pradesh chief minister Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna is believed to have started the tradition of hosting iftar receptions. India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru would privately host it in the Congress headquarters.

His daughter Indira Gandhi continued with the practice when she returned to power in 1980 in order to woo the Muslims. Subsequently, all prime ministers after her - including Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh - continued with the tradition. But it took a Narendra Modi to come clean with the policy of appeasing Muslims through symbolic gestures and on the expense of the public exchequer.

For at least next two years – till 2019 Lok Sabha elections are held – it would be for the first time that neither the prime minister nor the president would host iftar.

Last updated: July 24, 2018 | 12:51
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